By Reymon P. Ruba
I am a weekend farmer, employed as a college professor at the Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Bukidnon. I want to show that I don’t only know how to teach but also how to practice in the farm what I teach.
I don’t only impart my know-how to my students but also to farmers who see what I grow in my farm. I am a soil and horticulture expert and it is always my pleasure to share technologies that could help other farmers in making their farming profitable.
People have been asking me why did I choose to grow rubber? Well, for a number of good reasons. For one, rubber is a retirement crop that could last for a lifetime. After five years from planting, we start harvesting the latex and that could last for many years, especially with new technologies that could make old trees productive.
Compared to oil palm, rubber is more advantageous to produce. In oil palm, the harvested nuts should be processed within 24 hours, otherwise, the nuts will be rejected by the oil mill. Rubber, on the other hand, can be stored for years with proper storage while waiting for better prices. While the rubber trees are still young, the rubber plantation can be used for multiple cropping to make the farm income-generating while waiting for the rubber to be harvested.
Multiple cropping in the rubber plantation while the trees are still young requires careful planning prior to establishment. The most compatible crops for intercropping include corn, vegetables and other high-value crops like watermelon, early in the first two years. These are followed by cacao, coffee, gabi, and ginger. By this time, the rubber trees are already partially shading the vacant spaces but still suitable for the intercrops to grow.
While the trees are still small, corn and vegetables will provide continuous income to the family. Coffee and cacao, on the other hand, will be productive in two years from planting so there is a continuous cash flow for the farmer.
Why do I intercrop cacao with rubber? Both crops have a common disease problem (Phytophthora) but I apply only one control measure to both crops. Cacao is considered as a golden crop because the demand is high and the price is also high at P145 per kilo of fermented beans.
Multiple cropping system is easy but needs careful planning before establishing the plantation. Plan out a program for the possible crop combinations. In my farm, I planted my rubber trees at two meters apart in the row and 10 meters between the rows. In the middle between the rows, I planted dragon fruit at 3 meters between hills. Watermelon was then planted in between dragon fruit and rubber rows, in rotation with corn and sweet potato.
After two years, when the rubber trees have developed a bigger canopy, cacao and coffee trees were established at 3 meters x 3 meters in between the rubber rows, creating 3 rows of cacao between the rubber rows. That’s in the blocks not planted to dragon fruit. With this practice, there’s no need to establish shading for the cacao plants. The rubber trees provided the shade.
Gabi and ginger can also be planted in between the cacao rows. The rubber orientation should be preferably from east to west direction, but since my farm is rolling in terrain, contour farming was designed at 10 meters between contour lines.
A hectare or two can be profitable in rubber production under the multiple cropping system. Any location will do provided that one should select the best varieties suitable to the climate of the site. Recommended clones and varieties are available. Just consult the experts.
What’s important in rubber production is proper technology. It pains me to see trucks loaded with logged rubber trees. The farmers have to cut their trees because of the low rubber cup lump prices, ranging from P28 to P35 per kilo. Break-even prices of cup lump is P20 per kilogram. If we can only practice multiple cropping, the farmer will have a continous source of income. When prices of rubber products increase, the farmer will even gain more.
We have millions of vehicles that need rubber tires and there are countless uses of rubber other than vehicle tires. Thus, rubber has a limitless potential for making farmers rich. Planting rubber and other tree crops is our ultimate contribution in conserving and reinvigorating our environment.
This originally appeared as “I practice multiple cropping in my rubber farm” in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2018 issue.